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News briefs: Week of Dec. 9

Dec. 8, 2013 - 01:43PM   |  
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Transit benefits set to drop Jan. 1

Thousands of federal employees will see their monthly transit benefits plummet from about $240 to $130, according to a message issued by the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority Nov. 25.

WMATA said in the message the IRS has not approved the current benefit amount of $240 for 2014, so benefits will automatically be lowered to $130 a month on Jan. 1.

Employees receiving less than $130 monthly will see no changes to their benefits, according to WMATA.

DoD to focus greater resources on Arctic

The Defense Department will increase its monitoring and research activities in the Arctic as ice recedes and the region’s waters becomes more navigable, according to a report released Nov. 26.

The report builds upon a May presidential directive highlighting the importance of an American presence in the area and pushing agencies to focus more attention on plans for the region.

The administration has called the reduction of Arctic sea ice “dramatic, abrupt and unrelenting” — a process that is opening the area to greater commerce and the possibility of mineral and oil extraction.

The Defense Department will boost efforts in a number of areas, including:

■ Improving maritime tracking systems in coordination with the Department of Homeland Security and other agencies.

■ Pursuing low-cost solutions for command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (C4ISR) needs in the region.

■ Contributing to climate change research to help predict sea ice conditions, which could inform the design of ice-strengthened ships.

GSA: Networx contract saved agencies $678M

The General Services Administration’s Networx telecommunications contract saved agencies more than $678 million in 2013, according to an agency announcement.

Bill Lewis, GSA’s Federal Acquisition Service integrated technology service’s Networx program manager, said in a blog post Nov. 20 the savings were about 35 percent off of regular prices.

In 2013, agencies spent more than $1.3 billion on services from toll-free numbers to voice, data and video services. Since 2007, agency use of those services has increased by 800 percent, but the cost has only grown by 43 percent, according to GSA.

Lewis said these services also can encourage mobility by providing the technology that employees need to work from any location.

This saves agencies money on real estate while increasing productivity, he said.

“Federal employees now have access to information wherever they are, through services like video chat, virtual private networks and web conferencing,” Lewis said.

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